I have a confession to make.
Until recently, I’ve been turning a blind eye and deaf ears to people saying how bad non-stick pans and skillets are for us. Even when I went through one non-stick skillet after another, replacing them as soon as their non-stick coating flaked off.
But finally, a few months ago, after my latest non-stick skillet stopped being non-stick, because of over-zealous cleaning sessions, I decided I’d had enough of non-stick cookware!
Which of course left me in a quandary. I am The Queen of Quick Cooking, The Diva of Easy Cleaning. How was I to survive without non-stick cookware?
A quick Google research brought me to the conclusion that I had two alternatives to non-stick cookware: stainless steel and cast iron.
I’ve owned both types of cookware for nearly 20 years, and I’ve only ever experienced frustration, disappointment and anger whenever I tried to cook pancakes or eggs in either stainless steel or cast iron.
That was until I watched YouTube videos like this:
I learned that I just didn’t know how to properly use my stainless steel and cast iron skillets — that’s why everything was sticking to them!
Now I know the proper techniques. This morning, I cooked sunny side-up eggs on my stainless steel skillet, and there was absolutely no sticking. The eggs slid from the pan to the plate.
Below I share with you the lessons I’ve learned these past few months, so you too can avoid using those nasty non-stick cookware.
Tips for Cooking on Stainless Steel and Cast Iron Cookware so Food Doesn’t Stick
- Preheat before cooking.
Before you prepare your ingredients, place your skillet or pan on the stove and turn it on to low. You’ll want the pan to be very warm before you start cooking. I usually sprinkle a few drops of water on a stainless steel pan to see if it’s warm enough. How warm depends on what you’re going to cook. For eggs and pancakes, I find a low flame to be ideal. For searing fish and other meats, a higher flame is better. As with all things good, you need PATIENCE, my dear. When something sticks, it’s usually because I tried to rush things by using a hotter flame than necessary.
- Use some oil.
Unlike when you’re using a non-stick pan, you will need at least a little bit of oil on your stainless steel or cast iron pan. You only need a very thin film. On my stainless steel skillet, I use a tiny bit canola oil spray.
- Use high-quality pans.
Not all pans are equal. For stainless steel cookware, look for high gauge stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core. I knew none of this when I bought my stainless steel set; I bought what looked pretty and was on sale 😉 Maybe I got lucky, because they’re performing well to this day, nearly 5 years later.
As for cast iron cookware, they don’t make ’em like they used to. New cast iron pans have a rough surface, which I hear, is not so good for non-stick cooking. I have a new cast iron skillet and, after I learned how to clean and season it properly, I’m having some success in cooking with it. Still, sometimes I get a major disaster like pancakes bonding to the surface like it was super glue’d.
So instead of buying new cast iron cookware, we’re better off getting vintage cast iron skillets on ebay. Griswold and Wagner are the most desirable brands, and sometimes auction prices can go up. However, if you’re willing to rehabilitate a rusty, crudded vintage cast iron pan, you can get them for cheap. I’m currently in the process of cleaning and re-seasoning my vintage pieces, following the scientifical process described here. I’ll post an update when I’m done!
- Clean and season your pans properly.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t leave food residue on your pans. Those become magnets for new pieces of food to latch on to. Now you’re going to read all sorts of different and sometimes conflicting advice on how to clean your cookware. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what works for you. However, let me share what I do:
For stainless steel pots and skillets, I wash them with soap, warm water, and a soft sponge. If there’s any stuck-on food, I take a piece of unscented dryer sheet and submerge it in the water, and leave the whole thing soaking for a couple of hours or even overnight. Afterwards, I wash as usual. Occasionally, I use Bar Keeper’s Friend to make everything shiny again.
As for my cast iron skillet, at the very least, I rinse it with very hot water. If I made something my son could be allergic to, then I wash it with soap as well. I also use a nylon scrubbie to rub off anything else that might be stuck to the surface. Afterwards, I wipe dry with a paper towel or dishcloth. Then I put the pan back on the stove over medium heat to make sure it is bone dry.
If I think it needs it, I re-season by wiping a very thin layer of flaxseed oil all over the skillet, including the bottom, sides and handle. Then I switch the flame to high and wait for it to smoke. I turn the flame off, wipe away every last bit of oil, then forget about it to let it cool off.
You can season stainless steel skillets, too. But I’d rather not. When I tried it, it left a golden-brown film on the surface, which I just didn’t like. Anyway, I find seasoning unnecessary to cook properly on stainless steel pans.
I have to admit, I prefer stainless steel to cast iron. Stainless steel is lighter, easier to clean, and requires less maintenance than cast iron cookware. But remember that I haven’t used my vintage cast iron skillet yet. I may yet change my mind.
What do you use for nonstick or almost-nonstick cooking? What are your tips for nonstick cooking on stainless steel and cast iron cookware? Do share!
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